They were at the precipice of understanding and another step would replace what had prior felt like the struggle to climb an unexpected mountain with the free-fall of conversation they were used to, easy and natural like the weight of our bodies speeding magnetic to the earth. The curbside reunion was over and the next moments limped after it unsure of what to become or how to react to the winged emotions that had picked them up like Elijah’s chariot. What could match that single minute where the world and the next world meet in the ferocity of nature and super-nature, in the wind of the fire and the flame of the fire, in a picture that Elisha watching could not have described except by metaphor? It was like fire, he must have said, like a chariot rising on steps like fire, like a chariot moving like it was rising on what were like steps that were like fire. He thought about Elijah stepping out into heaven, hair disheveled and face wind-whipped. Ok, he would think, what next?
And how could they help but think similarly as he put Jemmy’s bags in the trunk and they sat in the car, ready to drive home. The cliché was unavoidable so as he changed lanes he glanced over at Jemmy.
“Driving off,” he said, “We are driving home in a car, and we are driving towards something new ourselves.” He paused. “Of course, I guess we knew where the car will end up.”
The caveat was necessary for the coherency of the comparison, and this is what he thought he was talking about. She knew he only meant as much and responded in fake annoyance.
“The car, too, could always flip over the median and be the cause of some horrific, deadly accident,” she said and crossed her arms. He saw things as they were simultaneously not-alike and alike, always stimulating for Jemmy like seeing the same scene from ten feet to one’s side, but sometimes his comparisons stepped ahead of himself before he had analyzed them. Jemmy restrained him by taking him to logical extremes, and they both enjoyed the silly word games and arguments that resulted.
“We’ll just have to be careful drivers,” he said, smiling wide. Someone watching their relationship would not see the invisible threads of feeling that shot out like spiderwebs underneath each comment and challenge. He had never met someone with whom he wanted to scoop out his brain and spread it all out in front of, show every image and thought and wilderness to, everything that kept him so engaged that he was disengaged. He knew sometimes he spoke too much and that sometimes he focused on cloud shapes instead of the impending rain. But he knew too that Jemmy was the first in the audience of his life who could observe and listen just as easily as she could manage the stage directions with him.
Jemmy’s act broke and she smiled too. She had forgotten or had chosen to forget her daydream outside the airport and as each mile marker passed they slipped into the familiar comfort of each other.
When he had returned to the U.S., he had stayed with Jemmy in Chicago for a week. They loved Chicago, but the events he had not thought about for many weeks now were such that he knew he couldn’t stay, that he had to move back to Spring. He and Jemmy had started dating only a month before he left the country and they had managed to continue the relationship long-distance, battling internet inaccessibility and stretches of silence, fights that could not be resolved immediately, the struggles of communicating predominately online and through time-zone differences, and his general and omnipresent aloofness.
Once he had decided to fly from Cairo to Addis Ababa and camp out in the north near the border of Eritrea. He had not set up a group to go with and was primarily acting out of impulse, which infuriated Jemmy. By the time his plane landed, he had completely forgotten to email her, overwhelmed by the smells and the people. Cairo, he had learned, had one smell and then varying intensities depending on the proximity of the nearest pile of trash. It smelled like gravel had been shaved into his nose and that the air had to punch through to get to his lungs. So whenever he left Cairo he felt a lightening bolt of energy from the air he could almost see filling his chest.
Three days later he had logged onto his email in a net café in Addis before flying back to Cairo and saw twenty-five emails from Jemmy.
They had survived anyway, and survival made the decision to move to the same place easier. When the question was raised among friends as to why the were not moving in together, Jemmy bemoaned the conservative ethics of his rural town and the assumed publicizing of anyone’s lives within the three thousand citizens, but silently she was relieved to have her own space. She knew nothing between them in the next few months would find its course like water down a hill but would have to be irrigated and ditched, forced along, worked at until the landscape was conducive for the phenomenon of connection. Enough boys had come and wooed and flickered out with the timeline of a lightbulb that she knew: to be with someone is difficult, difficult more because it implies truly and actively changing oneself in bits and pieces regardless of all of the weekday talk shows advising women to never change for a man. Change is essential, for both, and the curtain walls and moats and keeps that a lifetime of living build around the possibilities and risks of becoming more than simply an individual needed razed and redesigned. Jemmy just wanted her own workstation at the end of the day, wanted to be able to reflect on the situations she never expected to see pop up and ingrained into the wood of her days, like the primal fact of moving to Spring.
She kept this to herself, hidden and internal, and so her friends simply knew what she really wanted. Yeah, they would say, its a small town. And you need your own space. They said it not to point out that they knew and always knew what Jemmy was thinking, but to give her the support she desired while allowing her her own secrets, misnomer though the word was.
“How’s your mom?” Jemmy asked. She ventured the question softly, like snow falling into a corner.
“Oh fine,” he said, “You know, ready and not ready for Gabe to leave.” He said it like a student of natural responses.
“Yeah,” she said cautiously, and moved on from her attempt, “I bet he’s excited to get out of Spring.”
“Reminds me,” he said, “Gabe and Mom want us for dinner tonight, if that’s alright with you. I know travel days can be pretty exhausting.”
“Dinner sounds great,” said Jemmy, “I haven’t eaten anything since a bagel before I left.” She remembered her chocolate bar in her bag, likely melted, and prayed that it hadn’t yet burst.
“Just remember that dinner with Gabe and Mom means Gabe will be there.”
“I figured as much. Don’t worry, I’m ready,” she said. He and Jemmy had noticed that Gabe’s sense of humor seemed skewed around Jemmy, like looking at something with only one contact in. He spoke more loudly to cover unease and his jokes seemed strangely harsh around her. They had agreed that Gabe had a crush on Jemmy, and R- was looking forward to watching their interactions play out.He often forgot that the people around him were real people, instead viewing as a bystander or a leisure reader, interested to see what will happen if this person meets that one, or if she says this. We act always out of reasons, he thought. What the reasons are, and whether the actors know them or not, fascinated him and if you had to choose a word to describe his default goal in social interactions, it would be amusement.
“He’s asked something about you almost daily,” he said, “I think he even got a haircut yesterday.”
“I bet he’s just adorable then,” said Jemmy, “Maybe you could get some pointers.”
“He says I’m a lost cause,” and it was true – Gabe had a knack for style and since the brothers were roughly the same size, Gabe gave him all of the clothes no longer contemporary enough. The result was that R- was always a few steps behind whatever trends dominated popular culture, a problem he didn’t mind having, especially living in Spring.
They crested a hill and saw Spring below, the sun almost dipping into it. The town looked quiet and unreal. It was hard to tell people lived there, and the car ride shuffled into silence. As he drove, he thought about his mother and imagined the night that brought him to Spring. It was on this road, it was winter. Perhaps the sun was right there. Perhaps the air was dark blue. And who is to know if the town was in fact real now? Was this still the world, or had things been changed when everyone was asleep, copies of copies, something that was not quite right?
Jemmy rested her hand on his leg and squeezed gently. He looked over and smiled, or hoped he did.